San Francisco Giants: Barry Zito Goes from Punchline to Playoffs in 2012

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San Francisco Giants: Barry Zito Goes from Punchline to Playoffs in 2012
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Barry Zito won't win another Cy Young Award unless he starts mainlining HGH, synthetic testosterone and virgin tears (at 3:56).

Nor will anyone ever argue the San Francisco Giants made a smart investment when they handed the southpaw a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2007.

But his days as a punchline and Bay Area whipping boy are over.

Zeets' legacy in orange and black has been spared that fate thanks to a resurgent 2012 campaign—one that's been much more useful than the numbers indicate.

Don't believe me?

Can't say I blame you.

It's a hard reality to swallow when the individual in question collected $80 million over five years while posting a 4.55 earned run average and a 1.41 WHIP in 821.2 innings. It's even harder to buy when that same "ace" surrendered a home run and over four walks every nine innings while whiffing fewer than seven opponents during that span.

It becomes damn near impossible to accept when the player was temporarily demoted to the bullpen at one point and was left off the postseason roster as his team went on to win the World Series two years ago.

And yet, it's true.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Although to accept it, you have to acknowledge that Barry Zito is the Giants' No. 5 starter.

He was the last healthy regular in the San Francisco rotation to make a start, and though he's pitched better than some of his rotation mates at various points in the campaign, he is still the fifth starter. A horrifyingly expensive No. 5, but a No. 5 nonetheless.

Consequently, it's convenient (and fair) to judge his numbers against those posted by other front-of-the-rotation arms because of his price tag and because they're so laughably inferior, but it's not entirely accurate.

Zito can't compare to a Justin Verlander, but that is no longer his role.

It'd be great if he came out and carried his club to victory by dominating the opposing hitters every fifth day, but all he's expected to do is keep San Francisco in the game.

That's what back-of-the-rotation guys are supposed to do.

Take a look at how he's fared in that regard—he's thrown more innings per start (5.74) than Matt Moore (5.73), Jeremy Hellickson (5.72), Stephen Strasburg (5.68), Tim Lincecum (5.63), Tommy Hanson (5.62) and Francisco Liriano (5.58). Additionally, he's tossed more quality starts than Tim Hudson, Dan Haren, Clay Buchholz, Ricky Romero, Lincecum and Josh Beckett.

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Granted, the best arms aren't measured by innings pitched and quality starts, but again, using such a lofty standard distorts the picture.

If you offered most teams a No. 5 starter who averaged almost six innings per trip to the bump and twirled a quality start roughly half the time, I think you'd find a lot of takers.

But let's be honest here, the numbers are not the best way to build a case for Barry the Blade.

You can only spend so much time dwelling on them before some wet blanket comes along and ruins the party by citing Zito's earned run average (not great), WHIP (bordering on poor), K/9 (bad) and so on.

Luckily for the 34-year-old and the Giants faithful, Barry's qualitative game is stronger than his quantitative one.

Look at San Francisco's schedule and you'll see several critical victories jump off the page.

Take the fourth game of the year—the Gents were fresh off a season-opening sweep at the hands of the defending division-champion Arizona Diamondbacks. Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner had been roughed up by the Snakes in the first two games, and then Matt Cain couldn't protect a six-run lead in the finale.

The team was reeling, staring a 0-4 start dead in the eyes (with all losses to division foes) and needed something positive to happen to jump start the season.

The fellas got that and more from Zito, who went out and authored his first shutout in nine years despite facing the then-potent Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Did his gem save San Francisco's season? Of course not, but it was a gigantic win and gave the organization an equally large lift.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Or what about Zeets' start against the hated Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park in late June?

It was the Bums' first trip to the Sucka Free in 2012, they owned first place in the National League West by three games and had obliterated the good guys by the cumulative score of 16-5 while taking two of three earlier in the year at Dodger Stadium.

Giants fans were fearing another three games of ugliness and the possibility of season-long torture at the hands of the SoCal rival.

Instead, Zito fired seven shutout innings, got the squad one game closer to the NL West lead and set the tone for a series that would see los Doyers fail to score a single run in the trio of games.

Still unimpressed?

Then let's go back to the worst road trip of the season for los Gigantes, an embarrassing little six-game jag through Washington and Pittsburgh in which the team dropped five of six games before the All-Star break in either heartbreaking or grotesque fashion.

Guess who registered the lone win during the trip? Yep, that would be one Barry William Zito.

He didn't pitch brilliantly, but he pitched well enough to get a big win for his slumping teammates and stop a three-game losing streak.

The Giants have had four extended losing streaks thus far in 2012—they lost three games in a row in early April, four games in a row in early May, three games in a row in early July and five games in a row in late July.

Barry Zito stopped both three-game slides. Bumgarner and Lincecum halted the other two, respectively.

Check the lefty's game log and compare it to those belonging to his rotation mates—if not for Zeets' contributions in April and May, the team might not have overcome Timmy's struggles in those same months.

Note that Ryan Vogelsong and MadBum have battled themselves coming down the stretch. Zito, on the other hand, has finished with a kick, pitching well enough to allow the Giants to win his last nine starts.

For good measure, check out Zito's performance against the division in these days of unbalanced schedules:

  G W L IP ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
vs. ARI 4 3 0 24.2 10 3 5 18 3.65 1.22
vs. COL 3 2 0 20 6 0 3 13 2.70 1.20
vs. LAD 4 2 2 24.2 7 1 11 15 2.55 1.34
vs. SD 1 0 0 4 4 1 2 1 9.00 2.00
*Totals*  12 7 2 73.1 27 5 21 47 3.31 1.30

 

Outside of the start against San Diego, Barry's done some of his best work to the Giants' closest rivals. That's a great way to endear yourself to teammates and fans.

The big wins don't hurt, either.

So, no, Barry Zito probably isn't worth the $22 million he's cashing this year, but that money's spent. Fixating on it won't bring it back. Besides, the San Francisco Giants are headed back to the postseason, and he played a key role in getting them there.

Which is why he'll be along for ride this time instead of a spectator.

And deservedly so.

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